Union for striking Nabisco workers reaches tentative agreement after month of protests and boycotts

Workers in five states demand better workplace protections and fair pay amid pandemic ‘snack boom’

Alex Woodward
New York
Thursday 16 September 2021 17:59
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The union representing hundreds of striking Nabisco workers has reached a tentative agreement with the snack giant’s parent company as work stoppages in several states, nationwide boycotts and protests entered a second month.

Workers behind Oreo and Chips Ahoy! cookies and Ritz crackers initiated a strike in August after failing to reach a deal on a new contract with Mondelez International, the brand’s parent company.

The strike spread to Nabisco facilities in five states, as workers reached a breaking point amid factory closures, concerns over outsourcing to Mexico, and changes to pay, schedules and healthcare coverage that workers and unions say have undermined their labour, all during the coronavirus pandemic that has seen a “snack boom” with record profits.

Workers called for a product boycott, drawing widespread public attention, including from actor Danny DeVito, who called his Twitter followers to support workers “striking for humane working hours, fair pay, outsourcing jobs”.

“NO CONTRACTS NO SNACKS,” he wrote.

US Senator Bernie Sanders also announced his support for striking workers.

“If Nabisco can rake in billions of dollars in corporate profits, they can afford to treat their workers with dignity and respect,” he said on 18 August.

Mondelez briefly threatened legal action against the union, which was hit with a cease-and-desist notice for interrupting the company’s operations.

The union reached a “tentative agreement” on a new contract on 14 September, according to Anthony Shelton, president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union.

Local union chapters will vote on the contract after it is presented to members “in the coming days”, he said.

“I want to thank and commend all of the members of the bargaining committee for their many, many hours of extremely hard work to reach this tentative agreement,” Mr Shelton said in a statement. “As always in our Union, the members will have the final say on the contract.”

This year, Mondelez closed Nabisco facilities in Georgia and New Jersey, where the company’s decades-old bakeries employed roughly 1,000 workers combined.

Those shutdowns triggered concerns among workers that the company could eliminate their union jobs and move production to Mexico, after closures at a Chicago plant and a shift to production in Mexico in 2016 made headlines during that year’s presidential race.

The 2021 strike kicked off in Portland, Oregon, where more than 200 workers at a Nabisco bakery ignited a strike that spread to Illinois, Virginia, and distribution centres in Colorado and Georgia.

Workers have objected to company proposals to roll back healthcare coverage and work shifts that include 12-hour days without overtime pay.

In an offer released publicly on 31 August, Mondelez modified a work schedule proposal and offered a bonus of $5,000 per employee, annual wage increases, and a boost to the company’s matching contributions to workers’ 401k plans.

It also offered “alternative work schedules of 12-hour shifts” which would alternative three to four days a week “only on select, high-demand lines in bakeries”.

That offer expired on 7 September, and the company and union resumed in-person bargaining this week.

Mondelez said the latest agreement for new contracts has been “fully recommended by both parties”.

Union employees at the Portland, Richmond and Chicago bakeries and at distribution facilities in Aurora, Colorado, Addison, Illinois and Norcross, Georgia “will have the opportunity to vote on ratifying the new contracts in the coming days”, the company said in a statement.

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